If you turn left off the Princes Highway just past Winchelsea you will enter the Otway Forest at Bambra which is almost hallway to Deans Marsh. If feels like you are passing through a portal as the view changes suddenly from farmland to bush.
The Messmate and Ironbark trees grow close to the road and the light darkens. You are entering the territory of the infamous Otways panther after all. You can turn left onto the unsealed Bambra -Aireys Inlet Road and if you drive all the way to the coast you will be rewarded with far reaching views north where on a clear day you can see Mt Macedon.
The Boonah Hills are still thickly forested and teeming with wildlife. Tiger snakes with bodies as thick as your arm have been sighted. I read somewhere that the local Aboriginal tribes thought of this part of the forest as being haunted by small, gnarly and hostile beings. One can quite believe this as you turn left of Deans Marsh-Lorne Road onto Bambra-Boonah Road that winds its way up hill past farms that are remnants of the attempts of early Europeans to eke out a living from this most inhospitable land. Nowadays it forms a scenic drive with views across steep valleys. At the top you turn right to come back down onto Parker Road and meet the Deans Marsh- Lorne Road again.
Photo Credit: Local photographer Renee Wigley
Here are some basic facts about this part of the Otways:
The locality was initially named “Retreat”, but was later renamed Bambra after an Aboriginal word for mushroom. The area was opened up for selection in the 1860s.
Bambra State School was opened on 20 September 1866.
The Bambra Chapel, a Bible Christian Church, was opened in 1868, and became a Methodist church in 1903. A second church, the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, held its first service on 25 May 1902.
Bambra Post Office opened on 23 September 1892 and closed on 29 September 1973.
The school closed around the 1980s; the churches have also closed, although one survives as a private house.
The area has predominantly been used for agricultural, pastoral and dairying purposes; however, a coal mine in adjacent Winchelsea South, sometimes referred to as the Bambra mine, was active from 1921 until between 1928 and 1931, and from 1943 to 1957.
The locality still has a public hall, cemetery and a Hare Krishna retreat.
Boonah in the 2011 census, the population of Boonah was too low to separately report; however in June 2014 the Victorian Electoral Commission recorded 12 enrolled voters in Boonah, living in 11 properties.
The locality was the base for various sawmilling operations from the 1880s.
Boonah Post Office opened on 24 November 1887, became a receiving office on 21 August 1919, became a post office again on 1 July 1927, and closed on 26 September 1929. The Boonah State School opened in the late 1800s; its date of closure is unknown.
Today, most of the locality is protected forest contained in either the Great Otway National Park or the Otway Forest Park; the remainder, located in Boonah’s north, is private farmland. The Bambra-Boonah Road, which runs through the latter area, is the only mapped road in the locality.